CBR9 Review #105

Dreamland by Sam Quinones

Right now, I’m on a “read books for book club” streak, so my personal reading project is on hold for a few weeks. My library GenLit book club voted on its second-half-of-the-year selections a few months back, and Sam Quinones’ Dreamland was one of the winners. I don’t know too much about the opiate crisis in intimate detail, so I thought I would be informed. I had no idea how illuminating this book turned out to be.

Quinones is a journalist, and you can tell that he lays all the pieces out in painstaking detail. He chronicles a small town in an insignificant district in Mexico, where black-tar heroin is manufactured and where young boys beg to sell it in America in order to make their capitalist dreams come true. Then, you have the history of painkilling in the United States—doctors are encouraged to help patients avoid pain, and so you have OxyContin, which changes the script on other painkillers, as its timed release can cause a sharper high and trough into a deeper and more painful withdrawal. Quinones connects these two seemingly unconnected stories and points us to the real drug wars in the United States. It’s not poor black people on crack (thanks, 1980s Republicans for that!), but rather, middle-class and affluent white people who find themselves addicted to painkillers and must transition to heroin for the sake of costs.

This was a shocking and illuminating book. For one, Quinones highlights the class wars at play. For another, he shows how our culture’s relationship to medicine has truly become sick: we go to the doctor expecting pills, and we complain when they don’t prescribe them, so they often overprescribe in order to keep their jobs. And the cycle continues.

It’s a fast read, although it could have used a solid round of edits for continuity. Quinones mentions the phrase about delivering heroin like pizza so.many.times that my patience just ran out. Dude, WE GET IT. Mexican boys get a phone call and deliver heroin to an addict’s door. You don’t need to keep up with the pizza metaphors (and that also made me hungry for pizza, so maybe that’s a distracting metaphor).

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